December 8, 2007

Modulok (Red Ants)

Photos by Jon B
Modulok is the principal rapper of the group Red Ants and fellow Coxwell avenue resident in Toronto’s east side. He has garnered a fair amount of notoriety in Europe, performing in England, France and the Czech Republic. In 2005 Red Ants released the critically acclaimed Phobos Deimos, a solid demonstration of brooding, yet honest rap from the Canadian underground. Modulok’s latest, is a two track teaser 7” with production by Long Beach, California’s Omid and Fresh Kils. We got together over some O.E., talked about his group, rap music and then spiraled dangerously out of control on some Norman Mailer type shit.

Your last album was Phobos Deimos what’s the meaning behind the name?

It’s the names of the two moons of Mars. The names are Phobos and Deimos which means ‘fear’ and ‘terror’ sometimes ‘fear’ and ‘panic.’ The story is that the American astronomer who discovered those moons said that when he found them, he had this intense sensation of fear and terror because astronomers have been looking at that area of space for so long and some how never saw those moons. At that moment he was filled with this realization that humans run around thinking they know so much, when really they’re in the fucking dark.

In one of your songs you talk about grafitti writing, so obviously you used to/still sort of write?

I refuse to say I’ve quit, but I have to admit it’s on the backburner. Like, I’m 28 now, I’ve been busted before; I got a few criminal records. Even now, I get hell trying to cross the U.S. border, so I’m trying to stay out of trouble. I also feel there’s this Murphey’s law thing that even though guys like me spend years getting away with it; the one time I decide to go out bombing, I’ll get pinched.

Did you write Modulok?

No, I wrote Mofo or sometimes Mopho. I was never any big man in the grafitti scene, I always a grimy bomber type of kid. I was a hooligan. I’m proud of shit I did, it’s not like I was wack, but it’s not like I was anyone big in the grafitti scene. When I meet fucking, arrogant, pretentious, grafitti wannabe celebrities they’re all like: ‘who the fuck are you? What did you write? –Pshhh.’

For someone who hasn’t heard of Red Ants, what is your subject matter? Why do you rap about it?

I don’t think my music’s terribly deep. I don’t take a highbrow approach, but I’m not trying to be the world’s most intelligent rapper. A lot of my rap is battle rap, a lot of hating and kind of primal. That’s what I think of hip hop; when I listen to hip hop, I listen to Method Man and Ice T. I really fucking hate when like Now Magazine (or some hipster journalists) complain about how macho, aggressive or egotistical hip hop is. There’s this tradition of rivalry and competition that’s essential to hip hop. I hate people who criticize hip hop from this highbrow perspective. It’s funny because you can get into the cultural, historical roots of hip hop and how it came from West Indian immigration to New York City. My mom from Guyana has Calypso Lps from the 1950s of Calypso battles; Calypsonians freestyle battling over a live band, playing the same beat over and over. They’re singing, not rapping–but they’re dissing each other! They’re making fun of each other; calling each other ugly, saying ‘I sleep with your wife,’–whatever. So I actually feel hip hop is part of this cultural musical tradition, rooted in the West Indies; it’s about rivalry, it isn’t highbrow. There’s nothing wrong with all these deep, intelligent rappers. And some of my stuff maybe is deep and intelligent, I do try to get a little existential and stuff because I’m just being me. But I don’t try to take a super highbrow approach to rap; a lot of my shit is just angsty, battle rap, fun, hateration…

How much of your life is incorporated in your lyrics? Is it important to include that stuff?

I like to think I do it in a more real way, than just a patriotic way. My boy Apollo Creed; he was born and raised in Lawrence Heights, so he can really rap about [that neighborhood]. I have this transience thing, so I don’t have a hardcore rep in this ‘hood because I bounced around so much. But I feel my raps reflect eastside Toronto, East York, Scarborough region.

ModulokWhat are the worst neighborhoods in Toronto for hipster douche-bags?

Well, Queen west. Now, I don’t want to bad mouth Parkdale, ‘cause there are people who are born and raised in Parkdale and it was a tough neighborhood (and parts of it still are). But it’s like all these hipsters have moved in and they try to rep it like they’re from the ‘hood. I will slap any hipster that says they’re from the ‘hood because they grew up in Oakville and moved into gentrified Parkdale–that is the most offensive thing to me in the world. I’m not trying to dis Parkdale as a neighborhood because it’s a cool, historical neighborhood and anyone who grew up there, I got respect for.

Would you say you’re a rapper for the working class?

Well I don’t know about that. One thing I am fascinated with is the death or disappearance of working-class culture in North America. You study the history of music or literature, there are guys like Upton Sinclair who wrote The Jungle, where Lithuanian immigrants came to Chicago in the 1920s, live in these shitty ass houses and work in the slaughter houses. What’s the equivalent of that today? Working class art is really dead today. The substitution is this American gangster rap culture shit, which is just a super-romanticized version of ghetto life in a U.S. city. The average person who lives in that neighborhood isn’t a gangster, hustler or pimp; they’re just an average person who wakes up and goes to their shitty job everyday and doesn’t earn enough for how hard they work. Now the film industry want to look at the underclass, the only way they know how to do it is in this mythologized, street life gangster shit. Which is bullshit, because 50 Cent lives in a giant mansion in a gated community and then raps about being a gangster–it’s fucking fantasy shit. I rap about having some shitty ass job and not making enough money; friends you grew up with going to jail, so I feel my shit is kind of street, but in a real life way, not an idealized gangster way.

So then you have a friend you visit every Sunday?

Yeah, that’s Predaking, he used to be in Red Ants; it started out with two mcs and producer. He got into some trouble and he’s in Milhaven Penitentiary now.


Are you trying to get people to think with you music? Are you trying to change peoples’ perceptions?

In a fucking perfect world some cats would listen to me and realize why a lot of this wack shit that gets a lot of love nowadays is wack. Just by example, not because I’m dissing it. But I’m not holding my breath. In a way, all underground mcs right now are swimming upstream. Underground rap is the world’s biggest crapshoot.

Especially now, because it’s not cool anymore…

Especially now, it’s not cool. The tastemakers, the hipsters and the fucking the music journalists have had their fun with underground hip hop, don’t you feel? That’s how I feel; like it’s not fucking cool and I feel like unless you’re doing some gay (don’t say gay in the interview or I’ll sound like a homophobe–or you can say gay, I don’t give a fuck)…some gay hipster hop; you heard this term ‘hipster hop’? It’s a term now. There’s this hipster thing of being into jiggy hip hop, but in an ironic way. Fucking hipster kids! They wouldn’t go to a big club and dance next to black people who really like that music, but they’ll have an ironic, imitation, crunk party at some tiny hipster bar on Queen west wear[ing] fake gold rope chains and they’re into it–that shit’s wack!

ModulokDo you think that in some way, that’s racist?

Yeah, totally! For sure!

It’s interesting because it’s the rich, middle-class white kids making fun of the southern shit and those guys they’re making fun of are drinking cough syrup because they’re broke and they’ve been shit on their whole life. All they want to do is get fucked up.

Here’s the whole ironic thing: there are black hipster kids too. There are Lebanese hipster kids. It’s a little complicated; how much is it about race and how much is it about class? There’s definitely an issue of cultural appropriation maybe, if you want to use that term. I think white kids who wear fake gold rope chains and are into crunk music in this weird, funny, ironic way–like they’re into it, but also making fun of it–and it’s cool because to them it’s so silly and weird…yeah, I do think there’s something kind of racist and fucked about that.

It’s like a minstrel show.

If you like this music, why not just go to a club with black folks and listen to it? Maybe it’s just elitism that we’re talking about. I just think it’s bizarre and fucking wack. It’s a trip though right?

Do you think that this ties into people being apathetic these days?

When I was in high school, I knew a lot of kids into hardcore or punk music. The really cool thing was to be political; join an activist group, be a vegan…to be principled and have politics. I think it all went with this birth of hipsterism thing where it became really cool to be nihilistic. I feel like there was this total apathetic, hedonistic shift in youth culture at the dawning of the new millennium (not to get all apocalyptic), but all these principled ‘fight the power’ dudes, became these ultra-cynical, apathetic guys. They were embarrassed they used to be a member of ‘Food Not Bombs.’ Maybe all the people who weren’t in it from the heart just jumped ship and hipsterism is like the new ship they jumped on to, where all they gotta worry about is being cool and being laid, without all the restraints of principles and integrity.

You have any shout outs? Anything you want to say?

Predaking, Milhaven Pen., Red Ants, Sleep Eaters, Riot Crew, Coxwell Ave…

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13 Responses

  1. Without a doubt, Modulok is one of the best in Canada. Dude is hard and gritty, but he’s saying shit… That first album, Phobos Deimos, is one of my favourite Canadian albums, and I’m looking forward to the next one. Apparently he has a couple of projects on the go, including another Red Ants album, a solo album that’s kinda psychedelic with Vangel and a solo album that’s more straight up hip hop…

    And I think you can get the 7″ from It’s also very good.

  2. hey thanks everyone for the kind words. if anyone wants to order a 7inch off of me directly you can email me at [email protected] we can do it via paypal, they are 5 bucks plus shipping.

  3. those hipster comments are dead on.

    only red ants i’ve ever heard was that track ‘two bars’ which was sick.

  4. “There’s this hipster thing of being into jiggy hip hop, but in an ironic way. Fucking hipster kids! They wouldn’t go to a big club and dance next to black people who really like that music, but they’ll have an ironic, imitation, crunk party at some tiny hipster bar on Queen west wear[ing] fake gold rope chains and they’re into it–that shit’s wack!”

    I’ve never come across your music before but THAT just sold me an album without even hearing it. On-point as fuck.

  5. oh my god, Mo, you’re so on point with this shit. I fucking love a rapper who doesn’t mince words or affect apathy to avoid alienating people. Caring about wack behaviour and calling bullshit on bullshit is what it’s all about.

  6. Yes Moe, making a lot of sense like usual . The new Red Ants album is off the hook, Vincent Price’s production is killer . Peace B .

  7. enjoyed that, so smart, so fierce
    have to check out the album
    tardy cannon is really great